Genetic Testing for Pets


Ru Chen

- Updated May 29, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Genetic testing mainly helps with early detection of inherited health conditions
  • Despite limits to DNA testing, pet owners can use it to learn about pet health, breed, and behavior
  • Pet insurance usually excludes genetic testing costs, but can cover breed-specific diseases
Genetic Testing for Pets

Genetic testing for pets has become trendy in recent years, with countless pet owners taking a swab of their pet’s cheek for DNA testing. While it is not a perfect science, genetic testing can identify health risks, letting owners and vets adapt to these potential conditions in pets.

Let’s go over how informed genetic testing can reveal inherited health conditions, help you understand your pet’s background, and result in better pet care.


Understanding Genetic Testing for Pets

What is genetic testing for pets?

Genetic testing (also known as DNA testing) involves taking your pet’s DNA to test for health risks and characteristics. The test allows experts to look at your pet’s genes, which essentially form the blueprint of an individual’s life and body.

Changes in genes (AKA variants) result in differences within a species. For example, genetics determine the breed of a pet, as well as characteristics such as a pet’s coat color and ear size.

When a DNA test is carried out by a vet or pet owner, the pet’s genes will be assessed. This allows you to uncover whether your pet is genetically predisposed to certain breed-specific conditions and inherited health risks.

Types of genetic tests available for pets

Health screening: Genetic tests are commonly used to screen for health conditions and inherited risks. Note that the presence of a genetic variant that is associated with a disease does not guarantee that your pet will have that disease later in life. Research is constantly being done in the field of genetics to help expand our understanding of genetic conditions and risks.

Ancestry testing: DNA-based ancestry testing uses vast libraries of DNA samples to determine the breed and geographical ancestry of pets. Pet owners who are curious about the ancestral line of their pets can benefit from pet ancestry testing.

Breed identification: A genetic test for pets is often used to identify the breed of a dog or cat by comparing your pet’s genes to those within a library of collected samples. This can be useful for deciding on pet care choices if you have an unknown breed pet without any breed certificates. However, it’s important to know that genetic testing for pets should not be used as a purity test for purebred dogs or cats. Genetic tests may not be 100% accurate, and determining the purity of a breed depends on elements other than a DNA test.

Benefits of genetic testing for pets

The exact benefits of DNA testing your cat or dog can vary depending on your testing location and other factors.

Identifying genetic predispositions: Genetic testing allows you to uncover predispositions to certain diseases and health conditions. Even though DNA testing cannot replace an official diagnosis by your veterinarian, knowing about what’s in your cat’s genes can help you identify symptoms more quickly and create better pet care strategies.

Determining behavioral traits: DNA testing can also give you insight into your furry companion’s behavior. You may be able to uncover potential personality traits by looking at the genes of an animal. This can help you tailor your pet training strategies to better suit your pet’s needs and behavior.

Progressing genetic testing research: When a genetic testing clinic takes your pet’s DNA sample, they might use this to help progress their research. This means improving the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of critical pet diseases. As research advances, pets in the future can receive better care and prognoses for inherited health conditions.

Helping rehome pets: Some cats and dogs get passed up in rescues and shelters due to not having popular looks. However, with the help of DNA testing, pet adoption organizations have been able to promote dogs and cats that would otherwise struggle to find a forever home.


How Genetic Testing Can Benefit Pet Owners

Early detection of pet health risks

The early detection of potential hereditary conditions and health conditions can help pet owners implement the most effective precautions and pet care for their beloved companions.

Let’s go over some examples of risks that are detected early and what pet owners may be advised to do by a veterinarian.

Multiple drug sensitivity: A dog with MDR1 drug sensitivity shouldn’t take drugs like ivermectin (an anti-parasite drug). Knowing that a dog has the ABCB1 gene helps vets prescribe more suitable medications.

von Willebrand Disease (vWD): The most common hereditary bleeding disorder in dogs. When detected, it can be more easily managed as pet owners take action to deal with potential excessive bleeding in their canine friends.

Polycystic kidney disease (PKD): A genetic condition found in cats. It is most commonly seen in Persian, Himalayan, Siamese, shorthair, and Ragdoll cats. PKD causes cysts to form on cat kidneys, resulting in kidney failure and impairment. Early identification of the PKD gene allows for closer monitoring of kidney functions and kidney-protecting diets.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM): The most common heart condition in cats, especially Maine Coons and Ragdolls. It leads to thickened heart muscles, difficulty breathing, heart failure, and death. Certain genes in cats increase the risk of HCM, which can be identified through feline genetic testing.

Tailoring of preventive care and treatment plans

Based on genetic predispositions that are identified by a genetic test, pet owners can bring this information to their vets. A vet can help you tailor your pet’s preventive care and illness treatment plans so that they account for the health risks and hereditary concerns. For example, if your pet has an inherited bleeding disorder, your vet can ensure there are enough blood products in case your pet needs a transfusion.

Another way to use genetic test results to help your pet is to change your pet’s diet based on what is found. If your pet was found to have a higher risk of kidney or heart disease, your vet can help you devise a kidney- or heart-friendly diet. In the long run, this may be able to reduce the negative impact and symptoms of the inherited condition.

Enhancing the understanding of a pet's breed heritage and ancestry

It’s common for owners to simply enjoy the experience of testing their pet's DNA for breed and ancestry information. You can get an interesting insight into what your pet’s breed is (which is useful for owners of pets who don’t come with detailed paperwork). In addition, you can learn more about your pet’s ancestors. The results are exciting for many people and allow for an enhanced understanding of their pets.


Limitations and Considerations of Genetic Testing

Accuracy and reliability of genetic tests for pets

As much as DNA testing has progressed in the past decades, genetic testing is not a perfect indicator of traits or health risks. Make sure to understand the limitations of DNA tests for pets when interpreting results.

Ethical considerations surrounding breed identification and genetic predispositions

Genetic tests are often used by breeders and prospective owners to determine the “desirability” of a pet or a physical trait. This may result in breeds gaining harmful health conditions and genetic risks. Breeding for certain “desirable” traits like strength, size, and a certain appearance has led to many health issues and predispositions in dogs and cats. Breeding for “purity” due to the perceived value of a pet being purebred has also resulted in painful, life-threatening health conditions in pets.

In dogs, ethical concerns surround the breeding of dogs that are genetically predisposed to crippling dysplasia, health defects, deafness, and blindness. Larger, purebred dogs in particular are more prone to breed-specific health conditions.

As for cats, many breeds have issues with heart failure, flat faces that cause breathing difficulties, dental problems, and difficulty eating. Example breeds that raise ethical questions include the Munchkin cat breed, which suffers from exaggerated flat faces that lead to serious pain and health problems.

Pet owners, organizations, and activists have protested the breeding of pets with certain inherited conditions and genetic risks. Pet breeding can and does go wrong. Yet there is nuance to this subject. On the other hand, genetic testing can also help pet breeders avoid perpetuating genetic variants that are linked with pain and suffering in pets.

The hope is that as people become more aware of the risks of inbreeding and selecting certain genes, pets of the future can be free of severe hereditary health conditions.

Cost factors associated with genetic testing and potential financial implications for pet owners

Genetic testing can be expensive. Pet owners may feel obliged to obtain a DNA test for their pets, not only because it is a popular trend but because it is associated with numerous benefits. Getting a DNA panel done for a dog or a cat can cost over $100 per test.

If you face financial challenges, consider pet insurance.

Relationship Between Genetic Testing and Pet Insurance

Pet insurance typically does not cover the costs of DNA testing, regardless of what lab or testing kit you use. However, pet insurance may cover the treatment expenses for the potential hereditary conditions that genetic testing can highlight.

Pet owners can use pet insurance to save thousands of dollars on pet care throughout the life of their pet. However, pet insurance policies come with exclusions and limitations, with the main one being that pre-existing conditions are excluded from coverage. Compare different plans before obtaining one that suits your pet’s health risks and individual needs.

By choosing insurance from top insurance companies, you can quickly narrow down what policies are best for dogs and cats. Here are some of the best pet insurance providers to consider:

Recommendations for Pet Owners Considering Genetic Testing

Researching reputable genetic testing providers and laboratories

Pet owners who want to test the DNA of their cat or dog should take the time to research reputable genetic testing providers and laboratories. You want to use a testing provider that has reliable, large sample sizes of genes so that the test results are more accurate.

Consulting with a veterinarian

Genetic testing may be unnecessary or expensive for your pet. Before undergoing a genetic test, it is a good idea to consult with your vet to better understand the benefits and appropriateness of genetic testing. They can also help you interpret the results in a way that is relevant and useful to your pet.

Understanding the potential benefits and limitations of genetic testing

Genetic testing is often used as a way to predict pet health concerns that might surface later in life. However, this is not a perfect prediction. Genetics are complex. A genetic predisposition to a certain health condition or personality trait does not guarantee that this is true. The early detection of an inherited disease may also be unable to prevent or treat this disease. Prognoses are not necessarily affected by genetic testing.

In addition, errors may be made when collecting or comparing samples of pet DNA. A lab that assesses your dog’s genetic information may not be able to provide you with flawless information.



Genetic testing for pets can be a good way to help pet owners better understand the health needs and hereditary risks of their pets. The presence of certain genes in a pet can mean that they have a significantly higher chance of having the associated health condition later on. This allows pet owners to detect symptoms and alter pet diets earlier, which may be able to improve your pet’s health and wellbeing.

Before exploring genetic testing for your pet, consider obtaining pet insurance first. This helps ensure that if there are hereditary and breed-specific health conditions uncovered, you can be better prepared for any upcoming veterinary expenses and pet care adaptations.

About The Author

Ru Chen

Ru Chen

Content Writer

Ru Chen is a content writer with several years of experience in creating engaging and well-researched articles. She mostly writes about insurance, business, digital marketing, and law. In her free time, she can be found watching horror movies and playing board games with her partner in Brooklyn.

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